As far as what inspired the song, Yorke says, "I just wrote it in a drunken haze about five years ago. I thought it was crap." Not a surprising assessment from a self-proclaimed "Creep." But is the song autobiographical? Yorke says that's not important: "I don't think people are really actually interested whether it's me or not. I mean they identify with the song, not with me." And for all you creeps looking to bond with the main "Creep," Yorke says back off. "I get letters from people who obviously think I'm a creep," he says. "Therefore they think there must be something in my head they can relate to, and they try and get at it, and that really pisses me off. I mean I understand why, I wrote the song, but that doesn't mean people are allowed to get in my head."
(Circus Magazine, 1993
Q: "Is the recorded version of the songs drastically different from how they started out as?"
Jonny: "They are usually finalized quite perfectly before they are recorded. 'Creep' for example was written and arranged two weeks before we recorded and sounding identical before we recorded it."
(Glamour Guide for Trash" - Issue #5, 1995, Interview before the soundcheck at the RPM Club in Toronto)
The woman who inspired Radiohead's song "Creep" may never know just how special she is.
At least, that's what guitarist Jonny Greenwood would have the world believe. Singer Thom Yorke, who laments about being a "creep" and a "weirdo" in the presence of an angelic vision, will never see that woman again, Greenwood says.
In fact, they've never met.
That special woman turned up at this concert in Exeter, England, where Radiohead's members went to college, Greenwood, 21, explains. "Thom was mortified, because he's never spoken to her or anything. He just followed her for a couple of days or a week or whatever about two or three years ago. And here she was. He was very shaken up after that."
(Chicago Sun-Times, june 7th 1993)
Greenwood says Radiohead "just knew 'Creep' was going to be successful."
He should know, after giving 'Creep' its sharp little teeth in the form of some out-of-the-blue loud guitar bursts.
"I didn't like it. It stayed quiet," says Greenwood, referring to his initial opinion of the song. "So I hit the guitar hard - really hard."
Radiohead has won critical acclaim here, but all is not rosy in England, where, Greenwood says, 'Creep' was much less warmly received. As in the United States, radio listeners hear that the woman is 'very special'; on the CD, the phrase is '------- special'.
Perhaps doing a sanitized, radio-friendly version is a "bit of a sellout", Greenwood says. "But then we thought, Sonic Youth has done it. We thought it wouldn't be that bad. But the British press, they weren't impressed."
(Chicago Sun-Times, june 7th 1993)
Beside celebrating standing up for individual rights, "'Creep' is a celebration of the creep as well", says Radiohead's "polite guitar" player, Ed O'Brien, 25. "A celebration of all those feelings of people feeling like an outsider, an outcast. People say, 'I heard 'Creep' and I know those lyrics were written about me, that it's about me.' And that's wonderful."
(Washington Times, june 24th 1993)
But perhaps the ultimate punch line to the dryly humorous 'Creep' - which includes such lines as 'You're so very special/I wish I was special/But I'm a creep/I'm a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here/I don't belong here' - is that Yorke isn't really miserable. The song, he explains, isn't about how he feels, but is simply an observation of a character. Ditto for 'Prove Yourself', which takes the theme a step further.
"People have immediately said that we're a down band, that we write exceptionally depressing songs simply because of 'Creep'", he says. "But I'm not actually trying to discuss directly the personal sort of teen-age melodrama."
The irony is that as fans read their own meanings into the song, the effect has been to make Yorke, in some ways, a bit depressed.
"These songs are very personal", he says. "But 'Creep' has been taken into so many contexts that it's everybody else's song now, and I have to let that lie, sadly."
(Los Angeles Times, august 15th 1993)
Thom E Yorke sounds breathless, amazed and exhilarated. Radiohead's singer has had plenty of surprises in the past couple of years -- but this is the most astonishing yet.
"Getting to Number Seven - whoa! That's as silly as America!"
And this with a re-release that the band vehemently opposed for ages.
"We did a lot to interviews where people asked us, 'Are you going to re-release 'Creep'?' And we said 'Oh no! Not in a million bloody years! Over our dead bodies!' But then we got back from America and just thought, 'Why not?' I suppose the song won in the end."
"My first memory of getting to America was that we drove overnight from Paris, caught the ferry, drove to Heathrow, then flew to New York. So in 20 hours we covered Paris, New York and London, and then we drove straight out to Boston. I woke up on a coach, walked into this hotel in Boston at seven o'clock in the morning, switched on MTV, and there was 'Creep'! It was like, 'Oh my God...'."
'Creep' may have been a Stateside success, but it wasn't necessarily understood.
"A lot of journalists said 'This is a joke song, right?'", says Thom, still sounding astonished at the memory. "Well, yeah but no...I was quite shocked by that! It is an outsider's song, and I suppose it touches not a nerve with a lot of people - but it's not a nerve I'd want to tap again. I couldn't, anyway. It was an accident first time. I suppose it is ironic now, because I have to ask myself all the time whether or not I'm still an outsider. I think I am. I've just been pushed into a different corner."
"'Creep' was one of the songs on the first album where we did start to realize what a studio could do - that there's a lot more to it than just going in, setting up and trying to make it sound like it's live."
How does it feel to be in the Top 10 with that song- probably one of the most emotional extreme hits ever?
"Well... now we know what we can do when we try! Because it took off in other places, we realised its potential; but we were shocked that so many people picked up on it so heavily. We thought it was a good song - but you don't sit around at the end of a recording session saying, 'Hey, this is going to be a hit in America, guys!' When it first came out in Britain, we were still at the stage when we were thinking, 'We've only just started'. We kept saying to the record company, 'Leave us alone! We don't really know what we're doing yet!' We were just learning the ropes, which is a really naff thing to do in the public eye but we didn't really have any choice. Touring changed our attitude. We started getting more confident about what we were doing, and became a professional band rather than just this amateur outfit who'd been given a load of money and didn't know what to do with it. That attitude reached the record company. Everyone was really excited about 'Creep', and when we came back from America, it seemed really odd that the country we were coming back to didn't know about it. We thought every one would slag us off for it. But then we thought, 'Hang on - we'll be in America! So if this doesn't come off, we'll already have done a runner!"
These days, Thom's almost redundant when Radiohed play 'Creep' live. A roomful of voices variably sings every word of the song for him.
"Yeah - but that's great, isn't it? I had thought, 'Oh God, this is silly. This one song that we write, and everyone goes mad over it'. But the main thing is not to let it affect how you work and how you write, and to keep pushing yourself harder all the time."
(Melody Maker, september 25th 1993
, interview from september 12th 1993)
Educated ears will, however, notice an undeniable question from The Hollies' 'The Air That I Breathe' near the end of 'Creep' - and rest assured it was intentional.
"What happened was, we wrote 'Creep', and the middle eighth just had... my guitar playing a tune", says Greenwood. "And Ed stopped [us] and said, 'This is the same chord sequence as that Hollies song', and then sang it. So Thom copied it. It was funny to us in a way, sort of feeding something like that into [it]. It's a bit of change."
(Fender Frontline, fall 1993)
"Creep" is a most inadvertant hit. Bostonians Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade were in England, producing "Pablo Honey" with Radiohead. The band ran through the song in the studio to allow the engineers to set the proper levels. "It was an old song", explains Yorke. There was no plan to even record it until Kolderie and Slade said they thought Radiohead had something there. And, they had the tape rolling.
Thom: "It was just a song we were doing that hadn't worked very well in rehearsals," says Yorke. "We didn't really have an angle on it. And then we discovered we didn't need an angle on it, except maybe Jonny's guitar... 'Creep' just grabbed people by the throat. It wasn't intentional."
The inspiration, Yorke suggests, came from the fact that Radiohead was an untested entry in this vast "alternative" rock field. Did the five belong? "It was at a crossing point in my songwriting," Yorke says. "Because I'd gone from writing songs in my bedroom to being somebody who had huge record company figures over my shoulders listening to me." In other words, he was a potential commodity.
(The Boston Globe, october 8th 1993
Jonny: "I would agree that it's probably the best song on the album. And there's a lot of inverted snobbery that bands get into when they have a successful song. They want to play a song down. But I think we realize we're happy with it, that song. But, yeah, there are at least five what I consider to be really good songs on the album. And even the ones that don't work so well still sound very good live, I think. They weren't recorded perfectly, but we're happy with the whole album. We're keen for it to be treated as a whole album, not just something that happens to have 'Creep' on it."
Ironically, the version of 'Creep' that appears on Pablo Honey was something of a happy accident. It wasn't even supposed to be committed to tape the day it was recorded, Greenwood said.
Jonny: "It was recorded while we were actually in the studio to record two other songs. We were asked to play some things to check the levels of the tape, and we just did one that we liked best from rehearsing it the day before. We'd only written it the week before and we were just kind of very keen to play it for each other, and they happened to record it."
"It's good that people are talking about it. But I think it's also important not to sort of say what we think about it, how we feel about it," Greenwood said. "We had one guy who came and talked to us about it and said how he thought it was wonderful, and he had taken it in terms of being gay. That was great. So it's whatever anybody makes of the song. And we don't want to sort of make it smaller by describing about how we feel."
Greenwood isn't hesitant to share a theory on the appeal of 'Creep', saying he thinks the song has struck such a chord in America because it's about everyday people and everyday feelings and attitudes.
"I put the success of 'Creep' down to the fact that people are getting very bored with bad rock stars or whoever putting themselves over as perfect, and it kind of makes them untouchable. That's just not interesting anymore. You know, being a rock star is dead. It doesn't exist anymore, like reading all the gossip columns about which bar they're going to. That just doesn't interest people anymore, luckily. And at the same time, it's not special to be in a band anymore. Anybody can do it."
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch, october 15th 1993)
Thom: "Sometimes it's confessional. Sometimes it's not. I probably felt like a creep when I wrote that song, but I don't think I'm a creep all the time. Actually, I think a lot of what we do is quite humorous, but nobody else on the planet seems to agree. Standing on a stage singing 'I want to be part of the human race'... it's got to be a bit funny, hasn't it?"
(The Times, march 17th 1995)
Thom: "I don't want to set myself up like that again; I've had letters from Death Row, guys who have killed people, and they're responding to the lyrics on 'Creep'. That really fucking scared the hell out of me."
The fame of 'Creep' has created its own strange notoriety, for which he is usually the focus. The band's other guitarist, Ed O'Brien-the only band member whose physique actually fits in with the health surrounding-recalls how "people come up to Thom and say: 'Hey, aren't you the 'Creep' guy?' You can see he's about to react, and that's where we all leap in, wave our arms around and go: 'Yeah, man, we're the 'Creep' guys." In the band's new promo video for the single, 'High And Dry', Thom has tried to reclaim this monster for himself by wearing one of the American promotional badges, which declares, 'I Am A Creep'. This confident assertion that the song belongs to him is partly explained by the huge promotional budget on offer from the band's US label, Capitol, which promises to blast away the shadow of 'Creep' and establish the band as an album-based, long-term proposition.
(Vox, april 1995)
"There was a point where we seemed to being living out the same four-and-a-half minutes of our lives over and over again", guitarist Ed O'Brien says. "It was incredibly stultifying."
Jonny Greenwood, another Radiohead guitarist, shudders. "Doing acoustic versions of 'Creep' for radio station jingles", he says. "Being the 'Creep people'." He shudders again.
(The Times, may 19th 1995)
"It seemed that while we were this little band out on the edges making our music, no one had any grudges", remembers bassist Colin Greenwood, who accompanies the band for its upcoming Toronto date Tuesday at RPM. "But as soon as 'Creep' hit, everyone got out their knives and came running. We didn't ask for 'Creep' to be a hit. We were amazed when it became one; it was something that we tried out, it sounded like fun to us, so we decided to put it out."
"About the worst thing they said was that not only was Radiohead a one-hit wonder but the band would never evolve past the sound of 'Creep'. If you listen to Pablo Honey with an open mind, you'll see that 'Creep' isn't representative of the direction of the band. It sticks out from the others."
(The Toronto Star, june 1st 1995)
'Creep' got on their first album by accident. "Thom had written the song in college, our producer heard us playing it at rehearsal and said we should record it."
(The Plain Dealer, june 7th 1995)
Thom: "We'd just finished doing a tour in Britain that hadn't gone very well, and we were feeling as low as we'd felt since we started - it would have been more useful to make the next record because there seemed nothing else to do. And then 'Creep' started taking off. It was frustrating, being judged on just that song when we felt we needed to move on. We were forced on tour to support it, and it gagged us, really. We were on the verge of breaking up. It was a lesson. The way that modern music culture works is that bands get set in a period of time, and then they repeat that small moment of their lives forever more - that's what everybody wants. And that's just what we weren't going to do."
(The Denver Post, june 12th 1995)
"Nobody knew at the time it would be a hit", O'Brien, 27, said. "It was the first thing we ever recorded. We've since tried to escape from that song, but it was the reason a lot of people came to see us in the first place."
(The Orlando Sentinel, june 16th 1995)
On its initial release in the UK, the second, self-hating single, the possibly classic Creep, stiffed. As with The Fixx before them and Bush afterwards, Radiohead suffered the indignity of being rejected by their motherland and embraced by America when Creep became a slacker anthem after an extended period of over-exposure on college radio. By the time Radiohead arrived in America for their first tour, Creep was already in the Billboard Top 40, and for the summer of 1993 its mutant guitar crunch and soaring melody spilled out from car radios and apartment windows all over America.
Its follow-up, the bracing Stop Whispering, failed to maintain the momentum and the band found themselves performing to capacity audience interested in hearing one song. For a time, Yorke re-christened the song Crap.
'At that time the whole so-called alternative rock thing happened there,' remembers Yorke, 'populated by sap programmers from the '80s who didn't have a clue what they were putting on and Creep suffered from that. It was a good song, but afterwards it was, "Well, let's have more like that please because the programmers understand it," and it's like "No, sorry."'
'We didn't know what was normal in America,' Jonny Greenwood muses. 'We went over there and we'd turn on MTV and Creep would be on again. We though, "Oh, that's good."'
'People were being very nice to us over there because Creep was doing so well,' adds Selway. 'Stop Whispering didn't do quite so well, so that opened us up to the more cynical side of it.'
'We were hysterical,' decides O'Brien. 'One moment we'd be giggling, the next we'd be really down. Our reactions were extreme.'
(Q #129, june 1997)
Q: "Are Americans waiting for you to make another 'Creep'?"
Thom: "No. I think that was the product of a particular environment. ['Creep'] fit the format. I think it was just the guitar noise. If the guitar hadn't exploded where it exploded, there's just no way it have got on alternative radio. And we wouldn't be anywhere."
(Rolling Stone, december 1997)
"The important thing for me," maintains Colin Greenwood (who studied Raymond Carver, John Cheever and other writers "dealing with the tensions of post-war American society" at Cambridge's oldest college, Peterhouse, between 1988 and 1991) "apart from the friendship, was the quality of Thom's songs. I remember an acoustic version of 'Creep' he sent me a cassette of from Exeter University in 1987. I listened to it and said, This is what I want to do. This is my destiny: to help disseminate this music and propel it directly into contemporary popular culture because it's so important."
(Mojo, june 2001)